Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on November 27, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
A lady with a noble mission. A duke looking for redemption. A forbidden love that cannot be denied…
Lady Daphne Hallworth is ready to celebrate the holidays with her family. But when they accidentally leave her home alone, Daphne uses the time to work on her dream—opening a home for unwed mothers. But her quest isn’t problem-free: She’s in a battle to win the property for the home against her brother’s best friend-turned-enemy, Paul Barstowe, Duke of Southart. And that’s not all: someone has stolen her personal diary, which holds secrets that could devastate her family. Daphne has always harbored private feelings for the man her family scorns…though perhaps striking a bargain with the handsome Duke will solve both their problems?
Paul, long considered good for nothing, aims to open a hospital to honor his brother and restore his reputation. So when a conflict over the land brings him straight into Daphne’s life, they make a deal: He will help her find her diary if Daphne can change her family’s opinion of him. But before he can win her family’s affection, he has to win hers first. Maybe love was the answer to their family feud all along?
Pemhill, Ancestral estate of the Marquess of Pembrooke.
Soon, she’d face her nemesis in hand-to-hand combat. Or a more apt description was “hand-to-paw combat.”
She was Lady Daphne Hallworth, a proud name synonymous with bravery.
She always said that mantra when she needed courage, and today she would not lose. An innocent’s life was at stake, and Daphne would defend it until the bitter end.
A trickle of sweat cascaded down the side of her face. Her mother had instructed her repeatedly that women do not sweat. Only horses sweat, while men perspire and women glisten. Whatever it was, Daphne bent her head to wipe the offending nuisance away. With a stealth-like maneuver that reminded her of her enemy, the dribble evaded her swipe and attacked her eye. The stinging salt forced her to blink several times to relieve the pain.
Swoosh. Out of nowhere, a forced gust of air assailed her. The angry magpie darted close, and Daphne ducked her head. As best she could, Daphne ignored the screaming and furious bird. Instead, she focused on her opponent— one that possessed an intelligence and cunning that knew no limits—her older brother’s cat, Athena.
Taking advantage of the magpie’s frantic calls and repeated swoops around Daphne’s head, her adversary approached from the far-left flank.
All things considered, Daphne loved Athena. The orange-striped cat cuddled with her late at night when she couldn’t sleep.
But this was war.
Daphne would make it up to the cat this evening. She’d sneak some pheasant from tonight’s dinner and wrap it in one of her linen squares, if there were any left over from their skirmish.
Thankfully, the mother bird returned to her nest in the mighty oak tree. Now Daphne could prepare for the next battle. Slowly, so as not to draw attention, she took a piece of linen and dunked it in the bucket of water. She was down to her last five pieces. Earlier, she’d taken one of her mother’s best table coverings and ripped it into squares the size of a man’s handkerchief.
Such was the cost of war. Finery and fripperies were worth the sacrifice for the greater good. When doused in water, the fabric transformed into a projectile, a weapon that her adversary loathed and feared.
Of course, when her mother, the Marchioness of Pembrooke, discovered her best linen tablecloth destroyed, Daphne would face a blistering lecture and some harsh punishment. Most probably, her mother would forbid she have any tarts for the next week. They were her only weakness in life, and her mother would consider the destruction of the antique linen worthy of such a chastisement.
If only her mother would forbid her from eating kippers.
She hated kippers. When served for breakfast, the little herrings always appeared to be staring straight at you.
With a sigh, Daphne wadded the linen into a wet ball. Forgoing tarts would be worth the sacrifice if she succeeded in guarding the precious life behind her to safety.
“One step closer, Athena, and you’ll be wearing this as a mobcap for your face.” Daphne aimed the sopping missile.
“What are you about, imp? Why are you fighting with your brother’s cat?”
Of all the rotten luck.
She didn’t need her brother’s charmingly arrogant but affable friend interfering now—not when another battle loomed before her.
Lord Paul Barstowe, the second son of the Duke of Southart, studied the nest, then surveyed the lawn in front of him. Scraps of material littered the ground, making it look like it had snowed linen. “Are you in some sort of epic battle?”
“Yes.” Daphne drew her shoulders back and defiantly tipped her chin. She pointed at a nest of twigs and grass she’d constructed on the ground with a makeshift wall of briar branches surrounding a tiny bird. His black and white wings constantly fluttered as he tried to escape the little sanctuary she’d carefully crafted around him. “Athena wants him for dinner.”
Paul surveyed her from top to bottom. Her black hair had escaped the confines of her bow and mud covered her half boots. “Instead of a well-groomed sister of a marquess, you look like a mess of dirt, grime, and sweat.”
“Dirt, grim, and glisten,” she said in an authoritative manner. “Only horses sweat. Mother says girls glisten and boys perspire.”
“What do pigs do?” A tiny smile broke across his lips. “Are you calling me a pig?” She narrowed her eyes in
He quickly subdued his humor. If provoked, she might be more dangerous than the angry magpie hurling squawks
their way. “No. If recollection serves, pigs don’t sweat, glisten, or perspire,” he said. “That’s why they wallow in the mud.”
“Astounding,” she answered incredulously.
“Never mind. Once your governess finds the depth of your dishevel you’ll be punished, I’d wager.”
Once a pristine white, the color of her simple dress resembled the dirty coal-infused fogs that smothered London on cool autumn days. The sash around her waist had somehow come untied, and the ends had turned black where she’d dragged it along the ground as she defended her territory and the baby bird.
“It’s my governess’s fault I look like this.” Daphne waved her hand down the front of her dress. “She won’t let me wear Alex’s hand-me-down breeches and shirts. Who would want to wear a dress when gathering briar branches?”
“Indeed. Who would?” Sympathetically, he grinned. There was no sense in making the point, but he highly doubted if a single bath would clean the filth she’d managed to attract today.
“My governess will make me put myself to rights before I’m allowed any dinner.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It makes little difference. I came prepared to spend the night. I have plenty of provisions and a warm blanket.”
His gaze darted from hers to the cat that crouched in preparation to strike. The tip of Athena’s tail flickered in warning of an impending pounce, one that would lead to victory with the spoils of war, namely the baby magpie, in her mouth.
“Get down.” Daphne grabbed his arm as she ducked.
The mother bird squawked as she flew past without any consideration for their position. This time she’d reserved her screeching fury for Athena and swooped low over the cat’s back. Athena darted in a zigzag pattern toward the kitchen.
Paul inhaled sharply as his gaze raked over Daphne’s bloodied arms. Scratched and bruised, she had suffered a severe thrashing from something, most likely an angry cat. Normally, Athena didn’t live up to her namesake, the goddess of war. Alex’s cat much preferred prowling around the kitchen for any scraps that might have dropped and expressing her thanks with a quick rub against the cook’s legs and a purr. But having wet linen repeatedly hurled at its head would give any cat cause for attack. “Did Athena do that to you?”
She shook her head. “I tripped and landed on the bramble branches.”
With a slight tug, he straightened out her arms to study her injuries. His hands dwarfed her smaller ones, reminding him she wasn’t just a hellion on a mission but a little girl. Some of her dress stains were the result of dirt, but far more of the brown blotches were dried blood. Her impressive conviction to save the little bird perplexed him. Didn’t most little girls prefer needlework, painting, and playing with dolls?
He pulled her gently toward the house. “Those scratches must hurt. Let’s get you inside and cleaned up.”
“I’m not leaving him.” She jerked her hands away and pointed at the bird on the ground.
Paul drew a deep breath and glanced at the fountain in the courtyard. The gurgling water soothed and encouraged him to practice sufferance as he exhaled. Sometimes he lost his patience with Lady Alice Hallworth, Alex’s youngest sister, who had a tendency to whine, but never Daphne. Her confidence and moral compass defied her young age. Only her bottom lip sticking out betrayed her stubbornness, a trait that she had in abundance. “That magpie came close to attacking you. This isn’t worth you getting hurt. You can’t change Athena. She’s born to hunt. You need to let nature take its course.”
Daphne blew a stray wisp of hair out of her eyes. “I’m not changing nature or Athena’s behavior. I’m just modifying it a tad.” She turned her unyielding gaze to him. “I’m not scared of the magpie.”
Had he ever been that stalwart in his principles or that innocent?
Perhaps when his mother was alive and he’d had her undivided attention. Once she was gone, no one paid much heed to him or his needs. His father’s interests had focused solely on his older brother, Robert, the ducal heir. Paul’s priorities then had changed to shocking his sire with his wayward actions—gambling and drinking to excess. He learned early that if he lived up to his reputation as a firebrand his father paid some mind to him.
“Come, Daphne. I’ll escort you inside. You need a bath, and your nursemaid should attend to your wounds.”
“Not until I know he’s safe.” She crouched next to the little bird on the ground.
He hopped and fluttered his wings, almost managing to become airborne. His brothers and sisters squeaked and tweeted in encouragement. Their little chorus of protests grew more frantic the longer their mother was gone from the nest.
“I have an idea,” Daphne offered. “Would you help me? I asked Alex earlier, but he had estate work to attend to. Alice is looking through the latest fashion plates Mother received from London.”
He didn’t miss the slight crinkle of the little hoyden’s nose at the word “fashion.”
“What do you have in mind? I don’t have much time.” Paul brushed his hands together. “Lucky for you, I haven’t lost my sense of adventure. I’m always game for anything completely inappropriate.”
Daphne rolled her eyes, then stood. “This is life and death we’re discussing. Not some stupid prank of schoolboys.”
She was deliberately piquing him. “Schoolboys? Seriously?”
“Of course. Pardon me,” she mocked. “Ever since you and Alex returned home from university, you both have preened and paraded like peacocks. Eton must offer a requisite class on offensive male behavior.”
He knew better than to quarrel with a tart-tongued spitfire, but she needed correction. He took a challenging step closer. “Haven’t you been taught that a man’s honor and character are something to be cherished and guarded?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve been warned they’re very fragile and to take heed when around one.”
The little rapscallion never ceased to surprise him with her quips. He threw back his head and laughed. For the life of him, he couldn’t resist and tapped her on the nose. “Well done, minx.”
With a dip of her head, she swept her hands out to the sides and delivered a courtly bow. A heated flush, one undoubtedly caused by his praise, crawled up her neck to her cheeks.
Though filthy, Daphne was really quite adorable the way she straightened her shoulders to try to quash her embarrassment. Pembrooke was quite fortunate that he had such an entertaining little sister. With a slight grin, he turned his attention to the nest in the tree. With little trouble, he could scale the oak’s branches, deposit the bird, and be down before anyone, namely that obnoxious mother magpie, returned. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll climb the tree and put the little fellow back in his nest. Then we can both leave this battlefield and prepare for the evening.”
“You’ll do that?” she asked.
The adulation in her gray eyes made his throat cinch tight. No one ever looked at him like that. He scrambled madly to come up with something to say that would shock or at least disabuse her of the notion that he deserved her admiration. He’d made it his life’s mission to be outrageous.
Janna is giving away a copy of her book The Good, The Bad, and the Duke. (US ONLY)
For a chance to win just answer this question in the comment section…
Lady Daphne gets herself in all kinds of bother trying to rescue a bird,
Would you put yourself in danger to rescue a bird or any animal?
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